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The Three Parts of a Meaningful, Heartfelt Apology

The power of apology to repair ruptured relationships.

A distinguished psychologist colleague, Robert Gordon, recently presented a very informative TED talk, entitled The Power of the Apology. This post provides a brief summary of his powerful message.

Most people apologize to get something instead of to give something. According to Gordon, 70 percent of our brains function outside of our awareness. Most of our flaws are out of our awareness, as well. In short, we can really be clueless about how we impact others, especially those whom we love. Our brains are not wired for lasting intimacy and we, therefore, require emotional maturity to make our relationships last.

Given that loving relationships are messy by nature, the power of the apology plays a huge role in relationship maintenance and harmony. The three parts of a healthy apology are the following:

1. Acknowledgment. Being able to see how your actions impact others is key to making a sincere apology. The acknowledgment part of the apology needs to start with "I." For example, "I am sorry for being late tonight."

2. Remorse and Empathy. Remorse is truly feeling bad for what you've done. Empathy is about being able to put yourself in the other person's shoes and know how she or he feels. The remorse and empathy components of the apology would sound like, for example: "Lisa, I am so sorry I said that to you. I don't like myself for becoming that reactive and I know from when my brother was harsh and judgmental with me, just how much that can hurt."

3. Restitution. This means taking action to provide an act or service to make up for the transgression. So, for example, consider the husband who is short and abrupt with his wife when she is excited to share with him about her first day on her new job. The husband can provide restitution by offering to listen better after first preparing her a cup of tea and by doing some extra housework while she relaxes a bit.

Two other points offered by Gordon are that apologies need to be dose effective (depending on the situation, don't give one too small and don't go over the top) and time appropriate (the sooner, the better).

I have authored four books, including the highly popular 10 Days to a Less Defiant Child (Perseus Books, 2006), and 10 Days to a Less Distracted Child; follow me on Twitter.

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